During the week commencing 1st November 2021, @SBLConnect polled School Business Leaders on the following question:
Regarding your current mental health at work, which of these comments best resonates with you?
The possible answers were:
I am generally doing OK
I often feel stressed
I am really not OK / overwhelmed
This was the 2nd in a new series of opinion polls that SBLConnect will is running as part of our new #SBLVoice programme. We hope that SBLVoice will become a resource and a mouthpiece for the School Business Leadership profession - a place where all school business professionals can voice their opinions on topics relevant to our profession, and most importantly, where they will be heard.
You can find out more about SBLVoice on our website www.sblconnect.com/voice, where you can also find the results of our other polls.
We placed our poll on the @SBLConnect Twitter account, which has 1825 followers, on the ‘School Business Managers UK’ group on Facebook (1,200 members) and the ‘School Business Manager (UK)’ group on LInkedIn (4,351). The poll was posted for 24 hours and in that time we received a total of 435 reponses.
The results have been split to show the differing opinions of the audiences of the three different social media platforms. Whilst there is clearly some crossover of members, there was some split in opinion between the three groups, but the message was broadly similar. As we gain more insight into the varying opinions of these 3 groups, so will our analysis be able to target specific audiences more effectively.
Chart One shows the number of responses, split by audience group:
Chart Two shows the percentage split across all respondents:
by Hilary Goldsmith, founder and CEO, SBL Connect
Few of us working in the education sector will have been untouched by the impact of Covid-19. Aside from our own personal experiences and concerns for family members and loved ones, our schools became the hotbeds of the nation’s pandemic response. First off, our rapid response to a national lockdown and a switch to online learning brought with it an enormous logistical and strategic shift for school leaders. School Business Leaders were then further challenged by the operational challenges of the Edenred fiasco, ever-increasing and complex Government guidance, and the management of the health and safety of our staff and students, in unprecedented situations.
Like many frontline key workers, SBLs felt the brunt of it, and had to contend with managing teams and core business functions remotely, amidst the ongoing panic of a nation in the grips of a terrifying pandemic. Our profession rose to the challenge without hesitation, doing whatever needed to be done to keep our schools functioning, whilst our teaching colleagues performed miracles online.
As lockdown was lifted and children returned to school, the challenges became even greater. Not only did SBLs have to manage their Covid response, but the full force of the SBL role itself became ever-more essential.
Being a School Business Leader has never been an easy option. It is a full-on, ever-changing and highly demanding role. Stress levels in the profession have been high for many years. This additional burden of a relentless pandemic response, combined with the requirements to set up on-site testing facilities virtually overnight, brought many SBLs to the end of their reserves.
Now, several months on, things are showing little sign of easing up, and the strain is showing. We are seeing and hearing increasing numbers of SBLs suffering from extreme stress and burnout. After nearly 2 years of operating on little other than adrenaline and determination, the physical effect of this superhuman effort is taking its toll.
SBLs are no different to any other front-line workers in that respect; as a nation and as a society we will be living with the impact of Covid-19 for many years to come, but my focus today is on our profession, and how we can find ways to support our colleagues, ourselves, and our profession.
Our poll shows us that:
Only 1 in 3 SBLs are doing OK.
Over 44% of SBLs are frequently feeling stressed at work.
Over 20% of us, that’s 1 in 5 of the SBLs who answered our poll, are extremely stressed, not coping and are overwhelmed.
When you combine the stressed and overwhelmed categories, you further realise the extent of the problem we face:
66% of Schools Business Leaders are experiencing frequent or unmanageable levels of stress at work.
This can’t continue. Strong, experienced school leaders are leaving the profession. Many who remain are exhausted and no longer enjoying the role they used to love. Others are thinking about early retirement, or stepping down from the full responsibilities of the SBL to take a more junior position. Others are leaving education entirely.
Aside from the obvious personal suffering of those colleagues and friends, the impact on our profession is considerable. If the reality and image of the School Business profession is one of exhaustion, stress and low morale, how will the sector retain and recruit skilled professionals to lead our school support services? Combine this with the ongoing battle for equitable and fair recognition and remuneration for SBLs, along with a known ageing workforce, there are some serious questions to be addressed by our sector and system leaders.
Are SBLs their own worst enemies? Are we acknowledging our needs and accessing support when needed? If not, why not, and how can we change our thinking?
Many SBLs have said that they feel unable to delegate to others, or to ask for additional staffing resources. What training and advice do we need to give in order to enable this?
Who is looking out for the SBL? Are Headteachers giving enough time to support their SBLs in managing their workloads and wellbeing? How can we address this?
What role do Governing bodies and Trust boards have? Are governors supporting enough, and enquiring deeply enough, into workload and wellbeing in their senior teams? Can they do more to give authority to Heads to secure additional staffing if necessary?
How do we solve the eternal battle of the SBL who is tasked with tightly managing resources, yet who needs to access those resources in order to support their own professional needs (increased staffing, training, arranging cover for themselves)?
What support can our professional organisations and trade unions offer us, as individuals and as a profession, to help resolve and reduce these key issues? And do we ever access that support for ourselves?
And how do we, as individuals, learn to put our own needs first. To manage our working hours, to ask for professional support, and to model the behaviour and ethos we wish to see for others?
There are no easy answers to any of these questions, but the discussion around them is essential.
At SBLConnect, we do all we can to offer support to our SBL community, and we are delighted that Dr Emma Kell is joining us to discuss SBL Wellbeing at our SBLTeabreak on 25th November 2021.
Additional tickets have been made available after the event was originally sold out. If you haven't got one yet and would like to come along, please book a free place here:
We know too that others are arranging events, discussions and actions to support the problems that our colleagues are facing. We very much look forward to seeing the results of these, and hope that by raising awareness of the issues, we will highlight both the need for support and resolution, but also to highlight the enormous value and impact that the SBL profession continues to have on our education system.